Friday, 11 July 2014

Simple People

I was asked by a fellow Etsy seller to write a short article about people who don't seem to grasp really quite basic concepts and are essentially the lowest common denominator when planning instructions or descriptions. But, she stipulated, there must not be any sense of insult, as the people concerned are still potential customers, will read it, and must not be offended.

I tried very hard to find a word to describe these customers. Those who have issues with downloading files can be said to be "not computer savvy" and they seem to tolerate that description. You can actually say directly "If you are not computer savvy I'll be only to happy to help further". Nobody seems to mind that.

But it doesn't go down well to say "If you are a bit slow, ask me for a translation of these instructions into words with one syllable." People don't like that.

Nobody likes to think of themselves as stupid. But I think most of us know our limitations, and understand that certain things will go over our heads simply from lack of experience or word usage. The following was criticised on Etsy as being too technical for a description of some artwork:

"I created this art with the help of fractal generating software. The algorithms and mathematics have been altered from standard formulas. "

The seller had questioned whether her art "went over peoples' heads" and was then chastised for suggesting people were too stupid to appreciate it.

So, you see, between things being too highbrow, and people sounding like they feel superior, there are all sorts of traps when discussing this sort of thing.

But if there is such a thing as average intelligence, it follows that some people are below average. Obviously if they are too far below they don't function well and need assistance through life. But those who are just a bit below do all the things that clever people do, such as drive, vote, get jobs, and spend money. Sooner or later we all run into somebody who put it the way my husband thick as two short planks.

Usually then, we find ourselves torn between two desires. One is to be kind and helpful, it's not their fault, we mustn't judge, we mustn't talk down to them, and so on. The other is sheer frustration.

So, the example that came up on Etsy was that of knitted blankets. Those in question were a good size, not quite bed size but the sort of thing you'd snuggle under on the sofa watching TV in winter. I've made these and I know both how long it takes and the quantity of yarn you get through. So these are not inexpensive items. Rather than try to recoup the cost of production, this lady sold the patterns to make the blankets yourself. It was a PDF download, costing $3.00 which is a reasonable price for a pattern. These were described as patterns, with the words "Instant Download" in the title too, and the same information in the description.

You know what's coming I expect. Having paid, the customer was angry that she didn't get a blanket for her $3.00. But while you're rolling your eyes, in telling the forums about this, there were HUNDREDS of replies of people with similar experiences.

Who in their right mind thinks they are getting a hand-knitted blanket for $3.00? You can't even buy a small hat for that. What did they think "Instant Download" meant? Did they read anything at all? Who can say.

We've all made mistakes when ordering online, but there's a limit. At which point is it not a question of being rushed or distracted or too enthusiastic, but of being dumb?

People do vary in intelligence, and let's not pretend otherwise.

You've heard of the infamous Nigerian scam. Did you know that the bad English in the emails is a deliberate policy to weed out intelligent people? The scammers are using it as a filter.

If you find this sort of thing interesting, here is some careful research on the subject:

But to summarize:

"The scam involves an initial email campaign which has almost zero cost per recipient. Only when potential victims respond does the labor-intensive and costly effort of following up by email (and sometimes phone) begin. In this view everyone who enters into email communication with the scammer is “attacked” (i.e., engenders a cost greater than zero). Of these, those who go the whole distance and eventually send money are true positives, while those who realize that it is a scam and back out at some point are false positives.

If we assume that the scammer enters into email conversation (i.e., attacks) almost everyone who responds his main opportunity to separate viable from non-viable users is the wording of the original email. If the goal is to attack as many people as possible, then the email should be designed to lure as many as possible. However, we’ve seen that attacking the maximum number of people does not maximize profit. Operating at the OOP involves attacking only the most likely targets. Who are the most likely targets for a Nigerian scammer? Since the scam is entirely one of manipulation he would like to attack (i.e., enter into correspondence with) only those who are most gullible. They also need, of course, to have money and an absence of any factors that would prevent them from following through all the way to sending money.

Since gullibility is unobservable, the best strategy is to get those who possess this quality to self-identify. An email with tales of fabulous amounts of money and West African corruption will strike all but the most gullible as bizarre. It will be recognized and ignored by anyone who has been using the Internet long enough to have seen it several times. It will be figured out by anyone savvy enough to use a search engine and follow up on the auto-complete suggestions. It won’t be pursued by anyone who consults sensible family or friends, or who reads any of the advice banks and money transfer agencies make available. Those who remain are the scammers' ideal targets. They represent a tiny subset of the overall population. In the language of our analysis the density of viable victims, d, is very low: perhaps 1-in-10,000 or 1-in-100,00 or fewer will fall for this scam."

As some well-publicized victims have been government officials in several countries - and these are just the ones we've heard about - clearly the level of gullibility required is not limited to the people you'd expect to fall for it. As it says, they have to have some money.

I actually knew of a person who fell for a simpler online scam. A lonely woman chatting to men online, she struck up a relationship with a man who suddenly one day was wrongly arrested and needed her to send him $1,000. And she sent it. And of course, she never heard from him again.

Now, it was her son who I knew, and who told me this. And I asked him flat out, is she stupid? And he said that yes, she was, and he'd long worried that she'd fall for something like this. But she held down a job, paid the rent, drove a car, etc. A "normal" person. She functioned just fine in society, but she could be "had".

They say every man has his price, and also every person has a point at which they can be fooled. But that point is much higher in those who are intelligent. Credulity is most definitely associated with lower intelligence.

But going back to our original problem, how do you discuss this without offending the people at risk?

How do you advise people to read things carefully, and how do you explain their errors after they didn't, without sounding like you are calling them stupid?

Another issue that crops up at Etsy is the import taxes charged in Britain. All countries have this duty at the border, but not only does the value of goods before duty has to be paid vary from country to country, the effort made to collect it varies dramatically. In Britain the value is low and the effort high. A buyer in Britain receiving goods marked to the value of just US$20 can find themselves paying as much again in duty and fees. This comes as a nasty shock to a first-timer, and some customers blame the international seller. Some refuse to pay it, and send the goods back, others demand compensation. It is not the seller's responsibility, but of course, people don't always see it that way.

So, international sellers always advise buyers that any taxes, duty, fees, or whatever incurred as a result of buying goods in from overseas is the buyers responsibility, and most sellers have gone to extra lengths to impress this upon British buyers especially.

Unfortunately there are two problems with this emphasis:

1) Most of them don't read it.
2) Those who do are offended that anyone would suggest British buyers are so stupid as to not realise that.

There's no winning. I think I've worded mine inoffensively, and so far I haven't had an irate British customer complaining about it either, but it's probably just a matter of time.

Now, I have listed some of the stupid things customers have said to me over the years before, most of which arise from not reading the information freely available to them if they care to read the listing, and perhaps it's the demographic, but I do seem to have mostly smarter customers. Nevertheless, questions arise that require tremendous tact, and something else. One has to remember that other people see things as defaults, which may not be the case.

Recently on a Chinese wholesalers' website I saw the following exasperated advice:

"Please remember sizes are in centimetres. Very important. Or you expect huge things and you say everything in China is too small."

However, the issue really is people not thinking. Critical thinking, that process that sorts us all out. And we're back to awareness.

So how do we do it? How do we get people to stop and think? How do we help those who don't do this naturally? Do they want to be helped?

1 comment:

  1. I could be wrong, but doing ANYTHING online - including conducting retail sales - puts one in contact with MORE below-average and stupid people than any other venue. Why? Access. Instant access. People may have "mastered" the fine art of clicking a mouse and hitting the Return button, but they're still seriously lacking in the literacy department; especially when it comes to the "fine print." Basically, they see the pretty pictures, they see the price line, but like someone with poor peripheral vision, the other stuff is out-of-focus. Everyone I've known who has sold anything via eBay or Craigslist will vouch for this.

    How do you "help them?" The best you can. Use your customer service skills.

    Awareness? Critical thinking? That's kind of what I was talking about in my latest blog posting regarding relationships. People's minds lack the "resolution" to see things in fine detail. They notice large shapes and bright colors. Fine details and pastel hues…not so much.